Monday, April 19, 2010

David and Goliath?

Tim Kennedy took a run at Zdeno Chara early in the second period after Chara had casually lifted his left arm and sent tiny Tim flipping end over end like a sock monkey.  It was a sad display.  Tim Kennedy, South Buffalo's pride and joy, threw his five-foot ten, 176 pound frame at Zdeno's six-foot nine, 260 pound wall of steely flesh with all he could muster.  Chara didn't seem to notice, and Timmy just bounced off and fell down.  It typifies the struggle the Buffalo Sabres are experiencing as I watch the third game of the opening series of the quarter finals of the Stanley Cup playoffs.  The Boston Bruins are picking the Sabres off one by one.

With about seven minutes left in the third period Boston has broken the stalemate and taken the lead, 2-1.  I am watching a valiant response from number 44, Sekera; the gloves are off and punches are flying...Mrs. Marciniak is screaming "HIT THE BIG JERK!".  She's a pacifist, as you can plainly see.  It's a good showing, but I fear its a bit too little, too late.

Kennedy's struggle is reflective of a much greater reality, a reality Buffalonians carry with them every day:  we are small potatoes. 

Oh, we like to talk a blue streak about the Pan-Am Expo back at the start of the last century, and fondly remember the captains of industry born of strategic placement on the shores of Lake Erie. It is a location that fostered our rapid growth and precipitated our gradual decline when the storied Erie Canal was finally filled- in with construction waste and the big laker ships passed us by through Welland in Southern Ontario.  The steel mills and grain elevators closed one by one, and the blue-collar community staggered.  Crooked and short-sighted politicians interested only in assuring their own futures led the city to its present state of decay.  No one is really saying, but somewhere between 12,000 and 18,000 vacant homes and buildings fill neighborhoods once alive with immigrants and families.  It looks like a war zone in some places.  In many ways, it is.

We've struggled to find a new identity.  The University at Buffalo has valiantly championed medical research downtown, though decades after short-sighted bureaucrats determined that the state's largest university's new campus should be built on swampland in the corner of an agrarian suburb rather than the city itself.  A well-recieved "Talkin' Proud" campaign fostering community pride roused up the masses for a while several years ago, but it, like so much else, has been all but forgotten.  We tout our moniker, the "City of Good Neighbors" while our streets are littered with the spent casings of bullets that kill and maim our children.  Oh, and we were once designated an "All America City", whatever that means. 

And so we cheer when Guy Fieri visits our chicken wing joints, fall over ourselves like babbling idiots when entertainers like Keanu Reeves come to town, and give keys to the city to dubious luminaries such as Terrell Owens.  Anything to get back in the limelight, to toot our horn to the world.  Yes, our smiling mayor in his now-infamous (among locals) "Urkel" suit handed a key to the city to T.O.  That just makes me want to take a run at Chara.  Head first.

Despite all that, we have our beloved Sabres.  We really want them to win.  They are a lot like us; they run on the small side, they don't play very physically with the big boys, and they suffer inconsistency and a lack of ambition.  They have never been more than number two, and most often not anywhere near that.  But sometimes, when everything is clicking, they really show up and knock our socks off.  They demonstrate a resolve, a level of play that is beyond themselves, and we are mesmerized.  We see a glimpse of greatness; but like our own, it is often all to brief.  Then a big goon like Chara knocks us down.

Buffalo as we know it is dying.  A quick drive through the "East Side" will prove that true; but with death comes resurrection.  We are not a big city any longer, if we ever were, and as we continue to shrink the time has come to prune.  We need to trim away the bureacracy that cripples us and replace it with intelligence.  We need to finally admit that industry is just not coming back, and find some other way to make a living.  We need to ask the unions that hold on to empty victories from a time gone by to step aside and realize that much of what they are is now irrelevant and obstructing real change.  We have created our own Goliath, our own Chara that keeps knocking us down.  He has to go.

Finally, we need to draw on our strengths.  We are a city of families and of faith.  We are, down deep, good people, willing to reach out like only those who have suffered can.  A city that hopes to live must foster the source of its growth: families.  Improve the schools.  Build an infrastructure that promotes business, and ultimately, creates jobs.  Clean up the streets and the playgrounds.  Force the drug lords out. Make it safe again. 

As I finish these thoughts the game has ended.  Boston 2, Buffalo 1.  The Bruins are up in the series 2-1, with the next game on their ice. 

Okay, so we could win it in six...

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Happy Dyngus Day

The pain in my lumbar spine of recent memory has been gone for one full week, and the lights of the gym across the street are once again mocking me. I have little regard for this, and even less shame; I am from Buffalo, and there are no illusions of grandeur. I am more than willing to try and try again. If the Bills can do it, so can I. After heaping plates of kielbasa and ham this weekend, my belly has grown to a size that screams nine months gestation. The baby's got to go.

After Mass this evening the spouse and I drove to Wegman's (the finest grocery store on earth) that I might purchase some low-calorie lunches for the coming week. You know the kind; It takes ten minutes to prepare them, thirty seconds to eat them, and ten seconds to realize that this is not enough food, for the love of God. We also purchased a lovely statue of St. Francis for the garden, and three six-packs of flavored water. You may ask, where did St. Francis come into this? Frankly, he was there standing among plaster squirrels, and appeared in need of a rescue. I am certain St. Francis is as annoyed by squirrels as I am.

My resolve is strong, but tomorrow will bring temptation in short order: Dyngus Day. Unless you are from Buffalo, South Bend or Chicago, you are probably wondering if I just swore. No, my friend, Dyngus Day is a bonafide holiday celebrating the end of Lent. Its origins can be traced to Poland, and the large Polish immigrant communities in the northeast brought the celebration with them. Buffalo proudly boasts the largest Dyngus Day celebration in the country featuring a big parade and lots of Polish cooking, and therein lies my problem: Polish food. Kielbasa. Pierogis. Czarnina. Kiszka. Golambkis. There is a theme for the Polish cook: lots of fat and meat; keep the vegetable matter from fouling it up. Wash it down with Tyskie beer and/or vodka. Follow it up with a cardiac angiogram for dessert.

For our dinner I have half a ham, five pounds of fresh kielbasa, five pounds of smoked, and a big bag of the sister-in-law's famous home-made pierogis made with potatoes, cheese and bacon, all sitting in my refrigerator right now. Not to mention the sour-cream cheesecake. There are cucumbers, but the missus plans on soaking their paper-thin slices in sour cream and half-and-half. Yum. For lunch? Lean Cuisine chicken and fettucini. Two words come to mind: why bother.

And so I join humanity in promising to change tomorrow, to indulge for just one more day and then finally take this all seriously. As I binge on pork products for one last hurrah I will pray for the strength to do what must be done to melt the flab from my straining frame. I think I'll ask for the intercession of St. Francis. He owes me for rescuing him from squirrels.

Christ is Risen, Alleluia

Friday, April 2, 2010

Holy Thursday - The Tradition of the Seven Churches

Enjoy this video created by Chris Byrd from Broadway Fillmore Alive as he visits the seven churches on Buffalo's East Side community on Holy Thursday, a tradition originating in the seven major churches of Rome.  The Seven Churches are located in Buffalo's historic Polish community, and St. Luke's Mission of Mercy is included in this wonderful pilgrimage. 

One Night and Seven Churches - 2010 from Christopher Byrd on Vimeo.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Welcome to my world.

Back in the early eighties I parted my flowing blond locks smack dab in the middle of my acne-scarred forehead, and spent considerable time and several dozen cans of my mother’s Aqua Net in a vain attempt to keep my dastardly cowlick flush with the rest of my coiffure. There were times that my hair was so hard from the hairspray that a blacksmith could have pounded out horse shoes on it. Despite my best efforts that little lock of hair would find its way to an upright position perpendicular to the crown of my adolescent cranium. I looked like Alfalfa in a velour shirt and Sergio Valente jeans.

I am now well into my forties and that doggone cowlick is still a problem. Of course, I now part my hair to the side, maintain a professional length, and all that Aqua Net has been replaced by Paul Mitchell Tea Tree Extract with Jojoba Oils and Cream of Lamb Innards, but it still makes my hair feel like fiberglass. My velour shirts are long gone, and my Sergio’s have disintegrated. I feel somewhat cheated to know, thanks to the magic of Wikipedia, that there never really was a Mr. Sergio Valente anyway. I guess he lives in make-believe land with Mrs. Butterworth and their love-child, Buster Brown.

That cowlick is one of the last vestiges of my youth to remain. So much has changed. Now I worry more about the hair in my ears than the thinning hair on my head. My belly looks like I gathered all my teen-aged memories on a big plate and ate them. My ankles swell at night, my back hurts, and when I collapse in a heap in bed after a night of partying I have to be sure to put on the CPAP. Not that I party all that often. Okay, not at all, but still.

I recently visited my doctor for my annual physical, which I religiously schedule every three or four years. Our conversation went something like this: “Yes, I know, I weigh too much. My pressure is up. I should take a multi-vitamin. Exercise is in the works, yes, as soon as my back feels better. I plan on cutting back on the calories, doctor, yes, starting this week. You’ve got to check what?!? Cough.” I then went to the lab to have the prescribed blood samples drawn, eight tubes in all. In the waiting room I sat next to an old man whose pants were pulled up just beneath the nipple line of his chest. He glanced at my prescription and stared at me in a way only an old person can do without eliciting an “excuse me” and said, “Welcome to my world.”

It was then that Ecclesiastes came alive for me. That is a book in the Bible I never quite got; it seems so…cynical. Yet, as my cynicism for all things political, economic, and narcissistic grows, the book seems to grow in meaning for me. “Vanity of vanities, says Qoheleth, vanity of vanities! All things are vanity!” Eccl 1:2. He’s so right on – all the time we spend on our bodies, our achievements, our reputations, our cowlicks – vanity.

What matters in the end is dependence on God. He provides us with all we need, and in that provision we can enjoy the life we have been given. If that means I scarf down a nice plate of kielbasa and a glass of St. Pauli Girl every now and again, so be it. It all comes from Him who loves me. A hundred years from now memory of my accomplishments will join my Sergio Valente’s. For now, I’m going to love the ones I’ve got, enjoy a meal while the food is hot, and maybe even crack open a bottle of vino every once in a while. I’m going to honor the God who gives so freely out of His endless love for me. And I’m going to let that cowlick do whatever it wants to do. Aqua Net and Paul Mitchell be damned.